The F Word

One of the hardest things for us as human beings is the F word. No, dear one, not the word that immediately springs to mind when you hear that term. I am talking about forgiveness.

I have struggled with the F word my whole life, and I suspect you have too. The writer Anne LaMott calls earth “forgiveness school.” That term sticks with me because it so sharply reminds us that we all, in every day of our lives, have the opportunity to give and to receive forgiveness.

Why is forgiving people so hard when it is so necessary to our emotional health and well being? And why is it even harder to forgive those who have hurt the people we love?

When I was a high school counselor, a student named Sarah came to me and confided that she was pregnant. She was living with her grandparents, who had taken her in because neither of her parents were able to support her at that point. She hadn’t told her grandparents of the pregnancy yet, hadn’t sought medical attention, and was trying to figure out what to do next. My advice to her was to tell her grandparents, because they were going to find out anyway and the delay would cause more problems that would only make the situation worse. I told her that her grandparents loved her and that they would help her. She then asked if she could have them come to school so she could tell them with me present, for support. I grudgingly agreed since it was my advice to tell them, after all.

Her grandparents came to school the next day, thinking we were having a visit about graduation requirements. Sarah didn’t waste much time getting to the point. She announced to them that she was pregnant, in love with her boyfriend, and planned on keeping the baby. There were several horrible moments of uncomfortable silence. I watched grandpa and was seriously concerned he might be having a stroke. Breaking the silence, grandma began to sob. Grandpa found his voice, although it was shaky and uncertain. He spoke slowly, and his words were icy. “You will no longer live in our house. When you get home today, we will have your things packed. We don’t care where you go.”

Sarah’s grandparents got up and left my office without a word to me or Sarah. And Sarah, who had been mute through their response, began to sob as well. Through her tears, she said her boyfriend had already told her she could stay with him if she needed to. And me? I felt like I had betrayed them all. It was as if everything I had told her was a lie, and her situation seemed a thousand times worse. I told her how sorry I was that this had all happened, and I hoped things would improve in time. I thought I had probably earned the title of “Worst Counselor Ever” that day.

A couple of weeks passed, and I received a call from the main office to inform me I had a visitor. Sarah’s grandma had come to see me. She apologized for the scene in my office, and said that being blindsided didn’t bring out the best in she or her husband. She added that they were making reparations with Sarah, had asked her to come back to their home and were trying to help her boyfriend get a better paying job since he would have a child to support. I told her how glad I was that they changed their minds about keeping Sarah out of their lives, because she really needed their support. I have never forgotten what she said next.

“If we hadn’t decided to forgive Sarah, how could I ever live with myself? We love her so dearly. She wasn’t trying to hurt us but the pain she gave us that day nearly killed my husband. I couldn’t sleep nights not knowing if she was safe. When you love someone, forgiveness is the only option if you want to have any peace.”

This family went on to work out their less- than-perfect situation, but isn’t that what all of life looks like? That is often how forgiveness works– you let go of the pain, the hurt, the sheer horribleness of whatever someone else has done in order to move forward. Whether it’s your spouse, a child, a sibling, a friend, a coworker– we must forgive their trespasses.

Some of you will argue that some offenses are unforgiveable, things like infidelity, betrayal, abuse, the deep and intentional wounding both physical and emotional. I would never argue that a person should stay in a relationship or situation that causes them harm. Sometimes holding onto anger feels so good and so right. But we all know forgiveness heals us far more than it helps the person we are forgiving. Humans were not designed to carry the burden of bitterness for our entire lives. And forgiveness doesn’t always happen quickly; sometimes, it takes years. For a long time I was unwilling to forgive my father for the way he treated my mother when she was dying of cancer. He often acted like she was a big inconvenience to him, and was very uncaring to her in almost every way possible. After her doctor told us she only had hours to live, I went home to relay the information to my father (he wasn’t at the hospital, and rarely ever was while she was there). I gave him the news, and his response was to shrug his shoulders. That’s it. No words, no sadness. I was so angry I took a swing at him, but luckily I missed. I told him he made me sick and I meant it. He shrugged his shoulders again, and walked away. I wish I could say I worked through this quickly, but I didn’t. I dwelled on it and replayed the incident like a bad scene from a B movie. Over time I began to realize that my father was just who he was. He was flawed, and my bitterness towards him would never change that. I was poisoning myself with my own bitterness and hate, but that would never change what happened. I did forgive my father, and in retrospect, I am also pretty sure I did some things growing up that I needed forgiveness for as well. I was never as close to him as I was my mother, but was able to have a relationship with him for all the years until his death. I am thankful for those years, the relationship, and the forgiveness.

The year 2020 has been a crash course in forgiveness school. Maybe all of the hard things we have been enduring can make us a little better at forgiveness, at understanding that we are all flawed human beings, and that we all have probably botched a few things during this unprecedented year. As a Christian, Jesus commanded us to forgive one another. Even if you’re not a Christian, please know that forgiveness, while one of the hardest, most unselfish things a person can give, also gives you redemption– something we all need. I wish I had a five point plan or a step by step guide to help you with the F word, but I don’t. I just know it is something we must do if we want to live in peace with each other in this oh so imperfect world.

Charlie and the First Amendment

The First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

If you are a regular reader of mine, you have already figured out that I like to write about former students and the many things I learned from them. Back in the early 1980s, I taught in a small country school. It was culturally diverse and mostly poor. I had a very memorable student who dropped out when he turned 16 named Charlie. By the way he dressed, Charlie had been born in the wrong decade. He wore neatly pressed khaki pants, plaid cotton shirts, and brown leather shoes. His hair was short, brushed to the side, and had hair cream on it to keep it slicked down tight. He was mostly silent in class, very respectful, and his classwork was punctual and thorough.

There was something unusual about Charlie besides his dress and quiet manner. When we would say the Pledge of Allegiance in assemblies, I noticed that Charlie would stay seated and silent. I was so surprised because he was one of the most respectful students I had ever had. A few days after noticing this, I pulled him aside after class and asked him about it. In his usual quiet way, he said that his religious beliefs did not allow him to say the pledge or to stand for the National Anthem. He said his church believed it to be a form of idolatry.

I was totally astonished and asked him what church he attended. He said he was a Jehovah’s Witness, as were most of his family. I thanked him for the explanation and he went on his way. How had I lived in this country my whole life and had never heard this?

I occasionally heard other students talk about Charlie and these differences. I heard them mention that his family did not celebrate Christmas, either. The students discussing this were not being rude or mean, they were just stating a fact. They thought it was a little odd, but didn’t call him names, say he was unpatriotic and hated America, or anything of the sort. They accepted him for who he was and what he believed. When Charlie turned 16, he dropped out of school to take the GED. He turned his books in and told me his plan. He said he was leaving school because he wanted to help his family in their carpentry business, and thanked me for being his teacher. I had no doubt he would pass his GED with flying colors; he was an exceptionally smart young man.

His story resonates with me because even though Charlie did not do what was expected, no one vilified him for it. His classmates accepted the fact that his beliefs told him not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or stand for the National Anthem. They respected his decision and didn’t give him any grief for it, which is pretty remarkable when you consider how mean some high school students can be. It makes me wonder how we got to where we are today, when someone taking a knee is immediately regarded by many with disdain and hatred. Whether or not I agree with those who choose to kneel during the National Anthem is besides the point; my opinion of such doesn’t really matter. It is their First Amendment right. In fact, if you insist that every single person must stand because you think it is the right thing to do, that smacks of totalitarianism, not democracy.

It is saddening that we are at a place in our country where we think there is only one true point of view, one valid stance, or one “right” way to live. This goes for both those who lean right or left– we stopped listening to and trying to understand one another a long time ago. As a former counselor, I know when someone’s behavior is questionable, rather than just vilify the behavior, it is of utmost importance to ask why that behavior is happening. Once one can decipher the reason behind something, the behavior often makes more sense. This holds true whether we are talking about a fussy baby or a rebellious twenty-something.

Our founding fathers understood that this country would be diverse and should be a place where a citizen has the freedom to think and express themselves, as long as it didn’t bring physical harm to anyone. We are the most speech-protected and expression-protected country in the world. It is a freedom that our soldiers have fought and died for. If we as a country can ever hope to get past this current time of extreme polarization, we must go back to the first amendment, remember what it says, and begin listening to each other.

Even when it’s hard. Even when it is the opposite of what we believe. Our country’s health depends on it.

A Student ‘Schools’ the Teacher

In all my years of working in education, I had so many students who exhibited wisdom and lived with courage.  This is the story of an incredible girl who changed me the first year I taught.

Jamie was a 16-year-old junior when I first had her as a student.  She had porcelain skin, wide, cornflower-blue eyes, a figure that most girls could only dream of, and the longest, thickest dark blonde hair that fell to her waist.  She was terribly smart (but didn’t know it) and consistently made the highest scores in my class.  Her family was poor, and back in the late 1970s when she was in my class, was surely considered “poor white trash” by those people who wished to feel superior.  I always looked forward to reading her papers because, not only were they well-written, but gave me so much insight into the challenges facing her every day.

Jamie had an older boyfriend who had dropped out of school, so though she may have been a great student, her discernment on boyfriends was pretty much like every other girl her age—not great.  Several of the people I worked with suspected he was a drug dealer.  In the middle of her junior year, Jamie let me know she was pregnant but not to worry—she was getting married.  I felt like someone had blindsided me with a left hook.

Jamie’s parents made sure she knew she had disgraced the family by getting pregnant, so no help from them was given.   She continued her schooling throughout her pregnancy, took a few days off to have her baby, and returned to class within a week.  Fortunately, her husband’s mother offered to keep the baby while she continued with school. As the year wore on, Jamie’s looks changed.  Still beautiful, her eyes had plum colored circles under them.  She became as thin as the model Twiggy was back in the 1960s.  She rarely spoke up in class discussions, but never missed a day.  She finished out the year with excellent grades and disappeared from my life for the summer.

Shortly before school started in the fall, I got a call from Jamie.  She didn’t have a vehicle and had no way to get to school.  The bus didn’t go by her apartment, so could I possibly swing by and pick her up and take her to school?  I couldn’t say no.

I would pick her up each morning in front of her tiny apartment above an old store downtown. She would reveal bits and pieces of her home life: last night her husband didn’t come home; last week he forgot to pay the electric bill so they had no heat or hot water; the week before that he came home higher than a kite. I asked her if she needed to stay with me at my house, but she said no, he was her baby’s father and she wanted to make a go of it if she could. It was no surprise that things got worse and worse, so she started looking for a way out.

Through all of this, Jamie remained valedictorian of her class. Her schoolwork never suffered. I enlisted the help of some friends and found an attorney willing to take her divorce case pro bono so she could get out of her toxic marriage, because by now, she feared for her life along with her baby’s life. I was starting to feel like things were looking up for her finally, until one day she got into the car with a tear stained face. I asked if she were okay, and she said she was. We drove along in silence for a few minutes until she broke it with the words, “I’m pregnant.”

I nearly ran off the road, but luckily composed myself before we wrecked. She told me she worried what her husband might do when he found out she was pregnant but was leaving. Her plan was to stay until she had the baby, then to break it off. I couldn’t fathom it; it made no sense to me. I wanted her to leave right away. Jamie explained that I didn’t understand how her husband thought but that I would just have to trust her judgment. I couldn’t sleep at night for worry that she might not be waiting for me in front of the apartment the next morning.

She stayed, and had her second baby a month before graduation. She kept her valedictorian status, and her promise to leave. Shortly after graduation, she left her husband, took her two babies and moved out of town. I lost track of her but never forgot her. I would think of her at odd times and wonder where she had landed, and if she was still the same tenacious, steadfast young woman, making the best of things despite the odds.

I moved to another town, took a different teaching job, and got on with my life. One day twenty years later, I was at the counter of a store when a woman approached me: it was Jamie. She told me her children were grown, were doing well, and that she had just become a grandma. She thanked me for giving her rides to school and said she was pretty sure she would have dropped out if I hadn’t given her those rides. I told her I was pretty sure she would have found a way, because her tenacity, her desire, and her work ethic were some of the strongest I had ever seen. We visited a few more minutes, and parted ways. I have never seen her again.

Students like Jamie taught me that perseverance will get you far when money and privilege don’t exist. She taught me that the human spirit is stronger than almost any force that fights against it, and that just putting one foot in front of the other, when that is all you can do, is enough. I never caught her feeling sorry for herself. She reminded me that education is so important, that it is worth almost any sacrifice. Most of all, she taught me that perspective is everything and that there is a whole lot of stuff that I don’t know or understand about this world, but you don’t have to understand everyone to love them. Their background can be completely different from yours, and others may turn up their noses at them, but each one has such a valuable gift to give. She gave me so much, and really all I gave her were rides to school.

Things are bleak in our world right now. There is uncertainty, division, hatefulness, a pandemic, and lots of other problems in this world. When I remember students like Jamie, someone who it seemed had no one and no help, I am reminded how very strong the human spirit is and how we, in spite of everything, are able to overcome what seem like impossible hurdles. So chins up, my friends. We will get through all of this. It won’t be easy, it won’t be pretty, and we may need to cry sometimes. It will be messy, sad, and may feel endless. But let’s keep putting one foot in front of the other, pray for each other, and offer a ride to school if needed. Because in the end, all we have that really matters is each other.  

Monuments to Half Truths

Once in a great while, something happens that totally challenges the way a person views something that, until that moment, was just taken for truth. I had such a epiphany a few days ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

I saw an article, “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body is a Confederate Monument.” The title immediately piqued my interest. The writer, Caroline Randall Williams, is a 32-year-old poet and artist in residence at Vanderbilt University. This Harvard-educated woman tells her family story with such grace, such directness, I couldn’t stop reading. You see, her ancestors were slaves, but some of her other ancestors were white slave owners and white employers of black domestic help.

Her story begins with the sentence, “I have rape-colored skin.” She then explains that in her family history, which she has done extensive research on, has revealed that she has as much white blood in her as she does black blood. Her immediate white ancestors, she writes, were all rapists. White Southern men– her ancestors–took what they wanted from women they did not love, over whom they had extraordinary power, and then failed to claim their children.

Here is where things get even more interesting: She states, “My great-grandfather Will was raised with the knowledge that Edmund Pettus was his father. Pettus, the storied Confederate general, the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, the man for whom Selma’s Bloody Sunday bridge is named. I am his great-great-granddaughter.”

At that moment, I was able to put myself inside her shoes, and think about what it must be like to look at a Confederate monument– one that was probably erected during the Jim Crow era– and know that your ancestors were victims of slavery, rape, and all sorts of terrors that this monument is celebrating. I can’t imagine the disgust she and so many others must feel. And before you start to argue about rewriting history, and how we can’t just forget it, let me ask you a question: do these monuments really represent factual American history, or do they represent a mythic time that lovers of the Old South like to pretend was true? The myth where “darkies” loved working for their masters and having their children separated from them and sold. The myth where plantations were pillars of graceful living, not huge monuments built upon the backs of slave labor. Myths, not history.

I believe it is time to reframe history, not rewrite it. It is time for Americans to look at our past, all of it, and understand the dark corners of it as well as the bright ones. It is time to stop honoring people who were leaders of oppression during the Civil War. It took reading an article written by a woman who has both slave blood and confederate blood coursing through her veins for me to to have clarity on this issue. My hope for you is that you aren’t as slow as I was to see the entire picture.

Before someone jumps in and brings up the destruction of monuments during protests, as well as unnecessary vandalism, let me ask this question: what if we looked at our country’s founding principals: i.e., all men are created equal, and that we should be working toward a more perfect union- then listened to what a large group of our citizens see as a celebration of unequal and often horrific treatment, and took action before people had to protest? I abhor violence and destruction, but if there were nothing to protest, perhaps we could have a little more peace in this country.

I love our country. There are so many wonderful things about it to celebrate. But to act like the Confederacy should be celebrated and glorified with monuments does more to take away from the greatness of America than it does to help it. Here’s hoping that we can look at our past with clarity, so we can move forward in the present towards a more perfect union, one where we don’t ignore or fantasize about the ugliness of the past.

On Learning Curves and Teachable Moments

Schools all over the country are starting up for the fall semester, some virtual, some in person, some blended. As a former educator, I can’t walk past the displays of shiny crayons, pencils, notebooks, and reams of paper without feeling a little wistful. I always loved the startup of the year, with its crazed energy of excited students, lesson plans, cleaning and decorating rooms, setting goals, activities gearing up… the list goes on and on. I spent forty years of my professional life in education, and another eighteen in school myself. Most of my life has been viewed through the lens of a student or an educator.

As a new teacher, I was pretty terrible in a lot of ways. I was naive, oblivious, idealistic, and often flew by the seat of my teaching pants because of poor planning or ignorance of what did or did not work. After teaching a few years, I looked back at some of the things I had done and marveled that students had not collectively decided to toss me out the window at some point. For that I am eternally thankful. They gave me chance after chance until I actually got my teaching legs under me.

With any new job there is generally a learning curve to figure out. When I started in the classroom, there were all of the details of classroom management, lesson plans, how to fit everything in, and a gazillion other things to worry about. And since I looked like I was fourteen (I was 21 at the time), I had to try to make myself look mature enough to be in charge. I had the kindest students who were willing to let me try all sorts of things, and cheerfully went along with some of my rather zany ideas.

In 2020, every educator in the country, both the seasoned and the novice, is working through a new and really twisted learning curve. They are rising to the occasion by planning for all the scenarios that may come up in this pandemic. They are thrilled to be able to see students in person, to feel the excitement of a new year, new goals, fresh faces. The incredible fatigue that every educator feels in the first weeks of school is compounded by the wearing of masks, reworking classrooms to spread students out, and changing nearly every variable that was in place till now. Students have their own learning curve for the same reasons.

This is a teachable moment in America. Every educator I have spoken with who is back in school is elated to actually be with students again. They have missed their students so much, and even all of the mitigation efforts they must make cannot begin to diminish the love and care they have for their students. They have all bragged that students are so glad to be back in school they have worn their masks and done what they are supposed to without complaint. Educators, parents, and students alike are hoping they can continue to go to school without having to dismiss due to COVID. But like the troopers they are, teachers and administrators everywhere are prepared to do what they have to do to keep classrooms going even if they must become virtual for awhile. All of this extra load doesn’t come without a cost. There is an emotional and physical toll on our educators that is totally wearing on them, and this is where our teachable moment comes into play.

We, the general public, the parents and business people and ordinary citizens, must treat our teachers like my students treated me my first year of teaching. The incredible task they are undertaking deserves our wholehearted support. If you can help a teacher financially, do it. Ask them what they need. Reams of copy paper? A gift card to a coffee shop or restaurant? A shoulder to cry on or a vent partner? There are so many ways we can help make our educators and our students school year better in these crazy times. There are also many things we should refrain from doing if we want this year to be a good one. For starters– don’t bash teachers on social media, at the dinner table, or to your friends. Don’t tell everyone what you could do so much better if you were in their shoes. Show kindness and be encouraging to students and educators when you can.

My hope is that this teachable moment will make us more empathetic, more supportive, and more caring towards one another. Maybe 2020 can truly make us have better vision: we will see what really matters, and how many of our citizens are working towards keeping institutions like our schools not just operating, but thriving. Like my sweet first students of so long ago, let’s help our teachers be successful and in turn, help our students succeed as well.

On Jesus, America, and Opportunity

Full disclaimer: the views I share here are mine, and I don’t expect everyone to agree with them. But with all of the mean spiritedness in our country right now, I have found myself turning to Jesus and his first century disciples even more than ever before. Not the Jesus of the big beautiful churches that dot our landscape, but the Jesus of the New Testament.

I feel such a longing to return to the simplicity of the Gospel. The world Jesus lived in had no churches. It had no choirs, no worship bands, no conferences. His message was simple. Love God. Love people. Then he showed us with his actions how to do that, and the disciples who followed him did too.

Jesus spent his time among the unsavory, the marginalized, the outcasts. He healed, he fed, he offered encouragement. When money changers were in the temple, he got angry and turned their tables over. The Pharisees and government people hated him but the common people loved him because he showed mercy and grace and offered them hope. The disciples followed his example after his death, with many of them dying violent deaths at the hands of local governments.

I am having a hard time finding Jesus’ love in American politics lately. I am no Bible scholar, but I don’t think constantly bashing, denigrating, and name calling is what Jesus had in mind when he said love thy neighbor. I have stayed away from political and religious posts on my blog because frankly, there are plenty of those already floating around and I don’t have much new to add. I have stopped reading a lot of them because the tone of such posts flies in the face of what I am trying to do in my own life. I fail at this daily, but that’s a post for another day.

With the announcement of Kamala Harris as the Democratic presidential vice president pick, I thought back to my childhood and how, when I was growing up, I heard over and over, “anyone in America can become president.” As I got older and looked at the evidence of our past presidents during my lifetime, it became apparent to me that this was just not true. All of our presidents were older, mostly wealthy white men, with the exception of John F. Kennedy, who, while he wasn’t old, he was definitely white and wealthy. So, if anyone can become president, why did all of them seem to come from a similar background? When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, it was the only time in my lifetime that this maxim, “anyone in America can become president” actually rang true. Now, with Kamala Harris on the Democratic ticket, the possibility that anyone who works hard and has the drive and desire, can be considered for the number two position in the land.

To give you some perspective before you jump to any conclusions on my political leanings : I am a registered Republican. I have not always voted for Republican candidates, because I vote for who I feel is best suited for the job at hand. And I don’t vote for someone just because they claim to be Christian, because there is that pesky thing in the Constitution about separation of church and state. Like many others, I am often at a loss for who to vote for because none of the candidates seem that viable. But I digress.

Kamala Harris may not express every viewpoint that I agree with. There are several things that she supports that I do not. That doesn’t particularly concern me much, because pretty much any candidate for anything probably doesn’t think just like me, and that is perfectly fine. We have a representative government, so shouldn’t our leadership be as diverse as our population? I love the fact that a child of immigrant parents has risen to a level this high. It is what the American Dream has always been about.

How does all of this fit with a desire to return to the simplicity of the gospel?

Just like a desire to return to the basics of Jesus, I wish we could remember what our country was about before we got into this business of mudslinging, terrorist posts and statements of doom and gloom. I have never believed that our country was so weak that one office holder could bring it down, but I have been wrong before. The three branches of government are there for a reason. There is a balance of power, and that is a great thing. And the very fact that a woman of Harris’ background can rise to the level she has is something to celebrate, regardless of whether you agree with her or not.

My hope is that you will watch the presidential and vice presidential debates, and listen to the candidates first hand. What do they actually say? Take care not to put too much stock in what the talking heads on television say, or the political “analysis” you may see on social media. When doing research, a primary source is always superior than a secondary source. Analysts don’t always tell the truth. Much like the Pharisees did in biblical times, the truth could be twisted to suit a purpose or an agenda. So be an informed voter, and get your information first hand.

And if we all follow Jesus’ command to love thy neighbor, and we reach out to help instead of to bash each other, maybe, just maybe, America can get through this pandemic intact.

America, the Hateful

“The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write. The illiterate of this century will be people who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. The question for us is, What have we learned that we need to unlearn?” Alvin Toffler

I’m tired. I’m tired of staying home, wearing a mask, not having friends over, not going to the movies. I’m tired of not being able to see my daughter who lives halfway across the country because travel is perilous. I’m tired of people calling each other names on social media, of telling me that life as we know it is over if X, Y, or Z happens. I’m tired of conspiracy theories and statistics and debate over the schools. I’m tired of violence and negativity. So is everyone else I know.

I have been brooding about this lately, about what this mood, this dark cloud of anguish, illness, and fear is doing to our country’s psyche as a whole. It seems we have lost the desire to listen to each other, to work together, to change in any way at all. It has become nearly impossible to have a civil conversation with people who don’t think just like you do. We have become a nation of angry people.

I am not saying some of the anger isn’t justified. There are huge, complicated, messy problems we are facing right now. We are scared, troubled, and confused. We crave normalcy but can hardly find it anywhere. And like children who have not had enough sleep and far too much sugar, we are lashing out at each other in some pretty horrible ways.

I am so saddened to see and hear the hatefulness of people on the news and on social media. It is becoming more and more rare to see a truly civil debate of ideas and issues. And not only is rude behavior rampant, many seem to have an air of superiority while sharing a certain ideology: if you don’t believe the way I do, you must not be “woke”, you must not be Christian, you must a thug, etc., and the list goes on. And it isn’t just the general public that is infected with this virus of rudeness– the same behavior is being displayed in our country’s leaders. It’s as if people passed around a bottle of bullying pills and everyone decided to take one.

Please think about this before you say or write something rude: is this the hill you want to die on? Is a rant worth losing relationships over? While it’s true that America was built on protest, our country has been sustained by compromise and teamwork. When did America become a place where every group (medical, government, media, education, entertainment) worked systematically to destroy the economy, promote a worldwide pandemic, not educate children, sponsor riots and police violence, and create a cashless society? If all of this is true, every single leader in our country needs to be voted out because they have allowed this to happen. And if any of this is true, then we as a country are indeed doomed. And after the pandemic and the upcoming election are over (hard to believe, but someday they will be), are you going to be glad that you burned so many bridges because well, you know, you did your research and you knew what was really going on and everyone who didn’t think like you is and was, well, trash.

Progress in any form isn’t going to happen if both sides dig their heels in and refuse to listen to anyone who isn’t just like them. We used to be proud of the fact that America is a melting pot, a patchwork quilt of all types of people, and that our differences made us stronger. Polarization in practically every institution is the norm right now; so if we would like a new normal, maybe the change needs to be one of trying to progress toward some type of common goal, rather than for each faction to hammer their personal agendas down everyone else’s throat. Maybe we need to worry a little less about our individual rights, and worry a little more about what is best for our country as a whole. There are no simple solutions to any of our biggest problems right now; and not a meme, an article, a YouTube video,, or even a blog post has the answer. It will take all of us acting like citizens, putting our individual desires aside, and letting our messy democracy work to get us back on track. In the meantime, let’s support one another and quit posting and saying rude, unhelpful, finger-pointing things to each other. We don’t need an outside enemy to destroy us if we are hell bent on destroying ourselves. We may need to relearn what it means to work together, unlearn some of the more destructive and and defeating traditions and norms of the past, and learn to live a new normal that is more civil. You know, move towards a “more perfect union.” I like the sound of that. I hope you do, too.

The Birthday Club

In everyone’s life, there are groups that we feel especially connected to: school organizations, alumni groups, civic clubs, bridge clubs, church groups. Each one fulfills a certain need in our lives. No other group has impacted my adult life like the Birthday Club.

A group of women, about a dozen of us fairly close in age, started meeting to celebrate birthdays over 30 years ago. When I came aboard, the group had already been meeting for a few years. A typical meeting is sharing a wonderful meal at one of our houses, or occasionally a shopping trip somewhere. We are a varied group, some married, some divorced, some widowed. We all have children and most of us have grandchildren.

Like so many things in life, it has taken me much longer than it should have to understand what this group has meant through the years. We have met and supported one another through almost all that life has to offer: weddings, funerals, births, cancer, job loss, infidelity, surgery, cross country moves, all the highs and lows you can think of. We have taken overnight shopping trips together, gone to Florida to the beach, and before my time as a member, there was even a trip to La Bare’s (a male strip club. (After hearing the stories I am really sad I missed that one.) We have dissected almost every topic one can imagine. A meeting might go from talking about the current political climate to a poll of who sleeps with/without their panties on. We have listened to each other laugh, cry, cackle and sob. When I return home after one of our get-togethers, my husband almost always asks, “So what did you learn at Birthday Club?” I assure you I have always learned something, even if the usefulness of the information is debatable.

We met a few days ago because one of our members is moving out of town to be closer to her children and grandchildren. This doesn’t mean she is out of the club, it just means we will have to be a little more creative in getting together. I think that may be the most important lesson this group of women has taught me: that no matter what happens in life, friendship and love are a constant; that no matter where we live, we are connected; and that our connections are so precious, so important, we must always make the effort to keep meeting as long as we are able. Even though we have met for 30 years, no one in the group seems to have aged at all. We have aged together, so it is imperceptible to me.

There has been a running joke in our group that we will be pallbearers at each other’s funerals. We thought this was pretty funny when we were a lot younger. The possibility seemed so distant, so far away. For better or worse, loss and the passing of time has taught us differently. What I also know for certain is that these wonderful women, all with different backgrounds, politics, and histories– have carried me through my adult life as surely as a pallbearer carries a coffin at a funeral They have been my life bearers. My world has been so much richer because of their wisdom, hilarity, steadfast friendship and love of good food (couldn’t leave that out). Also, if you aren’t part of a group like this,just start one. It doesn’t have to be for birthdays– you can pick any reason. You’ll be so glad you did.

#Metoo, Part 2

This is a follow up to my post from last week about my #metoo experience. It was definitely a hard thing for me to share, but I felt deep down that if it was important enough to write about, then it was worth some temporary discomfort. When I hit the “publish” button, I felt a little sick. I fully expected to feel that way, so no surprise there.

What I didn’t expect was the sheer volume of response. I knew I would there would be feedback, but you guys totally blew me away. First of all, so many of you reached out with kind words of support. Friends from junior high and high school, current friends, former students, strangers– so many of you wrote the most encouraging things. Don’t let anyone tell you that there is no kindness left in this world, because it showed up in a big way last week.

What I was more surprised by were the responses from women who said that they too, had a similar experience and had never told anyone. Again, I expected a few of these, but nothing like what I received. Women of all ages responded: some called, some texted, some just commented on Facebook or on my blog post. Several sent messages via Facebook Messenger because they weren’t ready to plaster their lives on social media. The huge response is a double edged sword: I am not a researcher or scientist, but I am guessing that for every person who responded about a personal experience, there were several others that didn’t breathe a word, and maybe never will.

I am not foolish enough to believe that we can eradicate this behavior totally from our culture. I live in the real world and spent a fair amount of time in my career seeing the fallout. A few years ago while counseling a young woman who was probably about 15, we had a conversation that went something like this:

“When those two boys raped you, did you tell your mother?’

“Yes, I told her a few days later.”

“Can you tell me what she said to you?”

“She said we needed to find out if I was pregnant, and also, to just get over it because it’s just part of life and will probably happen again.”

This was a mother’s advice when her daughter was raped by not one, but two people. I wasn’t acquainted with her mother at all, but I remember wondering what must have happened in her life to cause her to respond to such a horrific event with total resignation and lack of surprise. I recall feeling sick to my stomach and not replying very quickly. When I was finally able to find some words, I remember telling this young woman that it wasn’t her fault, that even though it may be a terrible part of life, we must do everything in our power to make sure it was NEVER a part of her life again.

There is something each of us can do to make this better. First of all, we must teach our young people that no none has the right to touch their bodies without their permission. Secondly, we must tell our children to tell us when something like this happens and that it is not their fault. We must listen to stories and believe young people when they come to us. Could they be lying? It is possible, but statistically, that is overwhelmingly not the case. And we must keep promoting change in a culture that has taught that might is right, that people are objects and can be used for whatever the person with more power has, and that there is shame in telling what has happened when you are assaulted. I see and hear from a lot of young people who are passionate about this, and it gives me great hope for the future.

In closing, I want to say thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you. You make my life better by commenting and reaching out. Please know that God loves you and I love you too! Together, we can make these instances far fewer and something that mainly happened in “the good old days (as if they were always good).”

A #metoo Moment

I was talking with a young friend a few days ago, and we somehow got on the topic of sexual assault. She had previously shared her own experience, and the difficulty of telling anyone about it, including family members. So I felt it was an appropriate time to share my own story, in hopes that she would feel less alone. I have chosen to tell it here because I know there are many others out there that have had similar experiences and have either buried them in the dungeons of past memories or have felt shame and guilt that this has happened to them.

During the 2018 Kavanaugh confirmation hearing for the position of Supreme Court justice, Dr. Ford’s story hit me like a slap in the face. To refresh your memory, Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were both in high school. Some of the details of her accusation were murky; some were startlingly detailed. This brought about an avalanche of discussion about sexual assault, why people don’t come forward at the time of the incident, the effect of trauma on memory, and many other things. I am not here to argue about whether or not Kavanaugh should have been confirmed; he was, so that’s a dead issue. But perhaps what happened to me will help you understand why some of Ford’s memory and details of the incident were not clear.

When I was a 13 year old eighth grader, I was pretty average in many ways. I was terribly naive, and had received one kiss– from a boy named Burly at my friend Vicki’s birthday party- while playing spin the bottle. My knowledge of sex was very limited. I considered myself one of the nerds of my school so I was pretty surprised and excited when a ninth grade girl invited me, along with my older sister, to her birthday party. This girl was definitely popular, and I wasn’t often invited to popular girls’ parties. On top of that, the boy I had an extreme crush on- we’ll call him Joe for convenience’s sake- was also going to be at the party. I put on my new Bobbi Brooks’ burgundy sweater and matching plaid bell bottoms, and thought I looked pretty cool.

Once I arrived at the party, I spotted Joe pretty quickly. It took all courage I could muster to walk up and talk to him. We hadn’t been talking but a minute or two when he asked me to go to a different room to see something. I followed him obediently, of course. Once we got into the room, he shut the door and grabbed me. I could see it was a bedroom but little else. He proceeded to push me down on the bed and started pulling at my clothes, all the while pressing his mouth on mine not in a kiss, but as a silencer. Luckily, he had’t pinned my arms down, so I reached for his face and pushed him back as hard as I could. I guess it hurt because he stopped and rolled off of me. He called me some choice names (if I remember right, prick teaser was one and I didn’t even know what that meant), and told me to get out of the room. I ran out and found the nearest bathroom, and spent several minutes collecting myself, drying my tears and straightening my clothes and hair. When I went back out into the party, I told no one what had happened. I remember nothing else about the party after that.

I can promise you that I am not sharing this story looking for pity. I am sharing it because it may help you understand why victims do not always come forward, or when they do, it may be years after the event. I remember very few details about that night: I don’t remember whose house it was, who drove us to the party, how I got home, or even who else was there. I do remember what happened in that bedroom and the helpless, almost paralyzing fear that consumed me at that moment. I vividly remember the perpetrator. I consider myself very fortunate to have stopped anything worse from happening. I had buried this night in the depths of my memory until the Kavanaugh hearing brought it back to my consciousness, along with the shame I felt at the time. Some of you may wonder why I felt shame, if I didn’t “ask” for this to happen. In that day and age (around 1970), if something sexual happened to a girl or young woman, there was the implication that somehow she was to blame. She must have used provocative language, worn something revealing, implied something that told the man it was “okay” to do what he did. I was so naive I didn’t even know what it meant to “lead someone on.” And if you could see my eighth grade self, I am pretty sure you could surmise that I wasn’t sexy at all.

I am not so naive as to think there are not false sexual assault accusations made for all kinds of reasons. Knowing what I do, that is almost unimaginable to me. I do know that assaults like these are more common than some people think, because the trauma felt in the situation is so disturbing, and with revelation so many other issues arise, so most victims choose to just bury it rather than deal with it. Until 2018, I had told no one about that night. No one. Until today, I have told exactly three people: my husband, my daughter, and my young friend. So now you know, too. What I hope you will think about is that, in some ways, our culture hasn’t changed much since 1970. Many people still look at a victim of sexual assault and try to place some type of blame on them. Character attacks and a picking apart of the victim’s life happen more often than not. Is it any wonder young women stay quiet about these traumatic experiences?

During the Kavanaugh hearing when I told people I believed Dr. Ford, many of them thought I was delusional. “She doesn’t remember so many details about that night,” a friend said. “It was so long ago, so what difference does it make?” said another. “He has such a great record– why should this matter?”

I am here to say it matters because an incident so similar to hers changed my life in ways that I know about, but also in ways that I am just now figuring out 50 years later. We must not be complicit in keeping girls and women silent about what happens to them in these situations. One thing I do know: it changed the way I looked at myself. I started worrying about whether or not I was a worthy person, or just “trashy”, a word that was used back in the day. I truly believed then that I must have been really bad to make a boy think he could just attack me. We must listen to women when they come forward and tell their stories, not just because of how incredibly hard it is , but because telling a story like this one makes you so vulnerable. I am strong enough now to tell my story, but I certainly wasn’t for a large part of my life.

We also must teach our young people that other people’s bodies are off limits to them regardless of the messages they may think a person is sending to them, and that assault is never okay. We must reinforce the idea that their own bodies, created by God, are special, unique, and not to be toyed with.

If a person you know shares a story like this, please believe them until you have a solid reason not to. It only took me 48 years to tell one person, and 50 years to tell you.